October 14, 2015
Jane: So Before Passing is great weather for MEDIA’s fourth poetry and prose anthology, with submissions opening for the next on October 15. As always, it’s a mix of fun, excitement, hard work, and very difficult decisions. David, we published you in our first collection, It’s Animal but Merciful. Any surprises moving to the editorial side?
David: When I agreed to working as an editor on the anthologies, I told myself to prepare to read a lot of bad work in order to find the good. What I have found is that there is worthiness in almost all the submissions we read. The challenge is identifying the pieces that belong together in a given book. Which is why writers should not despair over rejections.
Jane: I totally agree. All of us are poets and writers ourselves. Being on the editorial side has taught me not to take rejection personally. And to celebrate those rare successes. Balancing the work in a print anthology is not easy. Like you say, David, there are lots of fine lines. And perseverance often pays off. There’s been quite a few writers who after being rejected the first year, come back with stronger work the next.
Thomas: What does Before Passing mean to each of us? I say we are all passing, whether living or dying. We are all before passing. We are all waiting to go someplace better. This anthology is that place that is better.
Jane: I think the way the title was chosen was really special. Our previous collections have all had long titles: It’s Animal but Merciful, The Understanding between Foxes and Light, and I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand. This time, our sense was to surprise and go for something short. After our friend and fellow New York poet Bob Hart died, we decided to use a poem of his in the book and asked Bruce Weber to write a tribute. The title came from another poem of Bob’s, some of which is reproduced on the cover. The phrase Before Passing for me suggests of being briefly in the moment, of connection with ourselves and others. A spark lighting up the journey. You know, in the interview that Aimee Herman did with Anne Waldman that’s in the book… Anne says, “poetry can move the psyche forward.”
David: Before Passing reminds us to stop in our overstimulated lives, and take in what is around us. To not jump to conclusions. Eliel Lucero’s poem presents a subway disturbance due to a boom box guy. People are annoyed, laugh him off as crazy. But then he speaks on the police shootings which have ripped apart his community. And we realize that this is his way to seize our attention. Prevent our acceptance of things. Reminding us we all have a voice.
Jane: I also asked our co-editors, George Wallace and Russ Green, what they thought. Russ said “Our latest anthology represents to me the ever expanding horizons great weather for MEDIA has set out to explore. From the local NYC scene to distant shores beyond, the level of work exudes excitement.” George gave a good and succinct answer. “May as well ask a surfer what the last wave meant to him… Before Passing was a good ride, a good damn ride. And it whet our appetites for more.”
David: For the next anthology, what materials would we like to read more of? For me, it would be dramatic monologues or very short plays. It’s challenging to find the right fit for this kind of thing in an anthology and while we have published a few – such as Penny Arcade, Edgar Oliver, and Bill Teitelbaum – we have not received enough options to work this in every collection.
Jane: Writers who have researched our anthologies and the way the book size is ideal for experimental/visual writing as well as more traditional formats. Also more creative nonfiction would be great. Personally, I love work that blurs the genre boundaries. I’m excited to see what our next guest prose editor, Thaddeus Rutkowski, chooses. Chavisa Woods picked some terrific prose work for Before Passing.
Jane: So, what drives us crazy with submissions?
David: What drives me crazy are cover letters that overflow with the writer’s anxieties. “You’ll probably hate this, but…” Give us the benefit of the doubt, and give yourself the opportunity to be evaluated without preconceptions.
Jane: Writers who don’t read guidelines and submit multiple times. We love reading the work, but seeing the same name come up twice a week for three months doesn’t make us recognize your name with fondness. Also people sending in 50,000 word novellas or 30 page epic poetry for an anthology. And although it doesn’t drive me crazy, I wish writers would double-check their submissions before submitting. None of us fret over the odd typo, but you are not doing yourself any favors if the overriding impression is a sloppy mess. If you don’t care about your writing, it is difficult to persuade me that I should.
Thomas: Everything in this world drives me crazy. Reading other people’s poems keeps me sane.
David: Thinking about what we have learnt this last year, what communities would we like to further cultivate for submissions? My answer is Chicago. A big city that we have not been able to tap yet. And we want to hit some of those blues clubs on tour!
Thomas: I would like to find those communities that aren’t looking to be found. The recluse poets. They seem the most creative and dangerous because they aren’t looking to impress.
Jane: To continue our aim for our anthologies to be diverse and reflective of our community in terms of race and gender/sexuality. An area where we have been lacking is disability politics and poetry. In terms of cities and countries, one that is close to my heart is London. Our UK writers have been from Manchester and Norwich – so come on, London! Scotland and Wales too. And we’ve not had an Irish poet for a while. South America, India, Australia…
Thomas: Finally, what are our favorite short poems in the book? (They have to be short so they can be reproduced here!)
David: Bob Hart’s “Make Such Pretty” due to the straightforward simplicity of its lay-out, yet magical spirit it communicates, which is so emblematic of Bob.
Thomas: I love “How Deep” by Toni La Ree Bennett. I like how delightfully evil it is. It does so much by doing so little.
Jane: Difficult choice but I’ll say “Leave a Little Room for Jesus, He Said” by Rebecca Audra Smith. It’s fierce and funny. A perfect and provocative way to end the book.